By MARY CLARE JALONICK, JONATHAN LEMIRE and LAURIE KELLMAN Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans lashed out Thursday at fellow GOP Sen. Richard Burr for his committee’s subpoena of President Donald Trump’s son, a move that suggested the Russia investigation is not “case closed” as some in the party insist. Trump said he was “very surprised” at the move.
The revolt by some against the Senate intelligence committee chairman comes after The Associated Press and other news outlets reported the panel is calling in Donald Trump Jr. to answer questions about his 2017 testimony to the panel as part of its probe into Russian election interference.
It’s the first known subpoena of a member of Trump’s immediate family and a new sign that the Senate panel is continuing with its own two-year long investigation, even after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s call from the Senate floor on Tuesday to move on from the probe.
Trump told reporters at the White House that he was surprised at the move, adding that “my son is a very good person” and that Trump Jr. had already testified for a “massive” amount of time.
Burr himself brushed past reporters at the Capitol, saying only, “I’m not taking any questions.”
The White House was caught flat-footed by the Senate panel’s action, and the news triggered outrage among the president’s most loyal supporters. Chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Thursday he was not given a heads-up. But Trump’s advisers had not yet decided if he would publicly attack Burr, according to two Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
In the Senate, the blowback against Burr was especially fierce from Republicans up for re-election in 2020.
“This case is closed. The Mueller Report cleared @DonaldJTrumpJr and he’s already spent 27 hours testifying before Congress,” tweeted Burr’s fellow North Carolina Republican, Sen. Thom Tillis. “It’s time to move on & start focusing on issues that matter to Americans.”
I agree with Leader McConnell: this case is closed. The Mueller Report cleared @DonaldJTrumpJr and he’s already spent 27 hours testifying before Congress. Dems have made it clear this is all about politics. It’s time to move on & start focusing on issues that matter to Americans. https://t.co/11THs9LE0j
— Senator Thom Tillis (@SenThomTillis) May 9, 2019
Texas Senator John Cornyn said he can understand Donald Trump Jr.’s “frustration at being asked to come back after having cooperated for such a long period of time and seeing now that this Mueller report is completed.”
Cornyn, a member of the intelligence panel, said he was going to talk to Burr and other committee members about “what we need to do to wrap up” the probe. He said he hadn’t been aware of the subpoena.
“At some point this is not about finding facts,” Cornyn said. “This smacks of politics and I think we have an important job to do to try to keep the intelligence committee out of politics,” Cornyn said.
Criticism also came from the top Republican in the House.
“Endless investigations_by either party_won’t change the fact that there was NO collusion. It’s time to move on. It’s time to focus on ISSUES, not investigations,” tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
.@DonaldJTrumpJr has already spent dozens of hours testifying in front of Congressional committees. Endless investigations—by either party—won’t change the fact that there was NO collusion. It’s time to move on. It’s time to focus on ISSUES, not investigations. https://t.co/fbFH5uMLUz
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) May 8, 2019
The suggestion that Burr, a third-term senator not running for reelection, is failing to properly lead the committee escalates Republican complaints from the White House down who insist that Mueller’s report closed the book on any question of whether Trump conspired with the Russians to meddle in the 2016 campaign or obstructed justice. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul a day earlier tweeted that Burr apparently “didn’t get the memo from the Majority Leader that this case was closed.”
Apparently the Republican chair of the Senate Intel Committee didn’t get the memo from the Majority Leader that this case was closed… https://t.co/jvV5PIX266
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 8, 2019
It’s also the first real sign of any dissention among members of the committee, who have worked together quietly since the panel’s Russia investigation began in early 2017. Burr and the top Democrat on the committee, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, have worked closely together on the probe and have often won praise from the panel’s membership, and also from McConnell, throughout.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the panel, said he thinks the criticism of Burr is “a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Senate intelligence committee is about,” which is congressional oversight and not prosecution.
As the subpoena drew criticism from GOP ranks, Republicans scrambled Thursday to develop a more cohesive response.
While McConnell said in his Tuesday speech that it was “case closed” on the Mueller probe, his office noted that he didn’t go so far to say the intelligence panel’s work was done.
McConnell’s speech noted the importance of the committee’s “upcoming report.”
Mueller did not find evidence of conspiracy, but did not make a recommendation on the obstruction question.
Burr’s committee had renewed interest in talking to Trump Jr. after Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified earlier this year. Cohen told a House committee in February that he had briefed Trump Jr. approximately 10 times about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow before the presidential election. Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017 he was only “peripherally aware” of the proposal.
Mueller’s report, released last month, says Cohen recalled being in Trump’s office “when Trump Jr. told his father that a meeting to obtain adverse information about Clinton was going forward.” The report notes that Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, that he did not inform his father about the emails or the upcoming meeting.
Cohen reported to federal prison this week to start a three-year sentence for crimes including tax evasion and campaign finance violations related to hush-money payments made to protect his former boss.
Warner would not comment on whether the panel had issued the subpoena but said the committee is going to “follow the truth wherever it leads.” He said the committee reserves the right to call witnesses back if they see inconsistencies in testimony.
The Virginia Democrat said the intelligence panel also wants to see the underlying evidence in Mueller’s report, a request that House lawmakers have also made. Trump on Wednesday invoked the principle of executive privilege over that material, claiming the right to block lawmakers from receiving it.
Warner said his panel knew about “90 to 95 percent” of the Russian contacts mentioned in Mueller’s report, and in other areas the committee had “much more extensive” information.
Warner made the comments at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Catherine Lucey and Eric Tucker and video journalist Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.